Australia’s largest cities still rely heavily on massive investments in rail before the second world war. With renewed interest in rail as a way of dealing with congestion, Peter Mares looks at what history can tell us about the value of reinvesting in railways
AT A BUSY intersection on Melbourne’s Nepean Highway, looking out over eight lanes of traffic, stands the imposing bronze figure of Sir Thomas Bent. Amid the noise of cars and trucks, few pedestrians stop to read the text on his plinth, which gives the outline of a long political career – as speaker of the Legislative Assembly 1892–94, premier of Victoria 1904–09, parliamentary representative for Brighton for thirty-two years, and a councillor of Brighton and Moorabbin for forty-five years.
But it is Tommy Bent’s surname that gives the best clue to his character, if not his impact on the city. In the early 1880s, his public and private roles – as commissioner for railways and as a property speculator – neatly overlapped. He not only promised to build railways to MPs’ electorates in exchange for political support, he also pushed through suburban lines that directly boosted the value of his own subdivisions…
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Photo: Russell Street/ Flickr